High-tech solutions for stress-free travel shopping

Shopping abroad can be tricky, especially when foreign product labels are undecipherable. For people with dietary or medical restrictions, it can be downright dangerous.

But a Japanese printing company says it has found a way to end the confusion.

Dai Nippon Printing’s solution lies in digital technology. It works like this: The customer uses his or her smartphone or tablet to read a special QR code printed on the package. An image of the package then appears on the screen, with the labeling shown in the language selected by the customer. The image can be rotated and viewed from all sides by swiping a finger across the screen.

Japan is in the midst of an unprecedented tourism boom, with record numbers of foreign visitors pouring into the country. Increasingly, their shopping lists are topped not by high-end electronics or luxury watches but daily goods such as cosmetics and snacks. For most of these commodities, the ingredients and instructions are listed almost exclusively in Japanese.

“For people with dietary restrictions, such as Muslims, this system will be a big help,” said Takahiro Morita, who works in the packaging operations division at Dai Nippon Printing.

Shoppers are not the only ones who will benefit. Because many of these daily goods are purchased as souvenirs, any recipient with a phone or tablet will also be able to read the labels.

Currently, the company is targeting the system at consumer product manufacturers. It is building a database of product packages and creating 3-D images and translations for each.

Duty-free shopping is one of the perks tourists can enjoy while traveling abroad. But the procedures can sometimes be a headache. Duty-free counters are often tucked away in hard-to-find corners of stores and plagued by long lines.

Internet solutions provider S-cubism Technology has developed technology designed to end those hassles. Instead of going to a counter to register for duty-free services, customers simply go to a dedicated reader that resembles a self-check-in machine at an airport — down to the passport reader and laptop-size liquid crystal display panel. Shoppers need only scan their passports with the reader and follow the instructions on the touch screen. Their names and passport numbers are automatically input, and a few steps later, they are registered for duty-free shopping.

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